Fix feedback in philanthropy – make evaluations public

During the second workshop with prospective GlobalGiving partner NGOs in Nairobi, Kenya, I asked the question, “How many of you have been evaluated by a funder or outside agency?”
Almost every hand went up. Probably 35 of 39 people.
“And now leave your hands up if you received a copy of the report that these outsiders prepared about your organization.”
Every single hand dropped, except one.
Francis Guchuki of TYSA explained. “Yes. We got an evaluation back from GlobalGiving last year.”
A moment later, one other man reluctantly pushed his hand back up. He said, “Yeah. Two people visited and wrote a postcard on GlobalGiving.”
These were the only two.

I wasn’t doing this to prove this point to them. I assumed that half would have gotten the reports back, and that the eventual point was to ask, “Well did you make these evaluations public?” But how could any of them? No funders gave them that opportunity.

I was shocked, baffled. There were only two current GlobalGiving partners in the whole crowd. I didn’t even think this policy was innovative – to feed the organization back information on what they appear to be doing to our independent evaluator. And yet, if we’re the only one doing it, I understand why people are tired of evaluations, surveys, and promises.

In TYSA’s home town outside Kitale, Kenya, GlobalGiving appeared to be only organization to do feedback there. People are receptive. But in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, at the Kibera Girls’ Centre, we were the fourth group to do a survey in 2010, in just 3 months. The head mistress couldn’t tell me how many came to extract data in 2009.

Now I understand what Francis means when he says, “Nairobi is not Kenya.” NGO funders need to leave the city more.

I’d faced some reluctance from Kenyans to be part of the storytelling project. But after we showed a demo of their live SMS messages going onto an ushahidi instance (kibera.ushahidi.com), then people started to believe we were serious when we say it is everyone’s resource. We’re not extracting data and leaving. We’re not here temporarily to pilot something and go. We’re here to build a lasting resource that is designed to help the NGOs themselves more than us, or anyone. Why? Becauses GlobalGiving needs them as partners. We survive because we serve them tools that they find valuable.

Several time I got asked, “What do we do with all these stories?”
“I can’t say. We have ideas, but it is up to you to decide what you will use it for.”
I could make something up, but it would limit the true scope of what could be possible with a collection of 3000 stories about organized community efforts on every type of NGO in Kenya.

It reminds me of my 2004 Fulbright study on how Gambians used a search engine. If I asked them to search for something specific, most could enter the keyword and pick a relevant page. But if I asked them to look for anything they wanted to know about, I got a lot of blank stares. Curiosity is the learned behavior of a scientist, more often than you think. That’s what I’m seeing. I think some people will use the stories to learn about Kenya, but not everyone has ever considered that they could be in control of the tools. It will take more training and demonstrations before that powerful idea sinks in.

And maybe, like the computer skills stuff, young people will catch up before the grown-ups.

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